Sunday, September 20, 2015

Reflections on the Quiet American Hero, Jimmy Carter

by Nomad

Jimmy Carter It's time to give credit where credit is long due. A look back at the remarkable retirement of Jimmy Carter, the humanitarian.

Few Presidents have had a more successful post-presidency than Jimmy Carter. Some have said he has re-invented the definition of what it means to be a former US president. 
In a world of politics, driven mad with ego and ambition, Carter has stood as a model of sacrifice and dedication to the service of his fellow human being. 

The Man and His Retirement
In 2012, Carter passed Herbert Hoover for having the longest presidential retirement. There was at that moment, no celebration of that historical fact. 
For Carter, it has not been a time devoted to idle relaxation and pure reflection of the past. 
During this time, he has continued to be a controversial political figure, castigated by Republicans with short memories, as "the worst American president." (They try hard to paint Obama with the same brush.) 

Crisis of Confidence Speech Jimmy Carter
Over the years however, history has been much kinder to Carter than those on the Right would lead you to believe. 
In his speech to the nation, Carter's 1979 warnings about the path America was taking (or being lead down) seem today dead accurate. 
What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends. Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift.
We are, Carter said, at a turning point in history.
There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.
Candidate Reagan mocked the doom and gloom and promised an America where everybody could have whatever they wanted, as long as they worked and believed. Success was a matter of mind over matter.
In 1980, that turned out to be the pitch that Americans were willing to accept. It has taken 30 years for the final verdict.
(Today Republicans evoke his name often but the candidates on display in this election cycle are all decidedly un-Reaganesque in both character and in policy.) 

As The Atlantic Monthly reported in 2012:
Carter, who left the White House in 1981 with a 34 percent approval rating in a Gallup survey, has enjoyed greater public approval in his post-presidency years. Gallup surveys gave him a 45 percent approval rating in 1994, 69 percent in 1999, and 52 percent in 2011. In 1990, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found him to be as popular as Ronald Reagan, the man who trounced him in 1980.
That trend has not faltered and in 2007, 69% of those surveyed saw Carter in a favorable light. If anything those numbers have probably continued to rise. 

Public approval, in and of itself, isn't something Jimmy Carter has even been fixated with. As soon as he left office, while the country moved on under Reagan, Carter had other priorities. 

In 1982, Carter founded the nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization, Carter Presidential Center at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. The center's mission has been devoted to advancement of human rights and alleviate human suffering. 
Alongside doctors and nurses and scientists, he has fought to eradicate diseases afflicting hundreds of millions of people in tropical Africa, including river blindness, malaria, and trachoma. 
Additionally, The Carter Center has monitored elections in 100 nations, and sought to mediate, when requested, in civil wars and conflicts from Nepal to Ethiopia, the Balkans and Sudan and across the Middle East.

For his work, Carter received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. The Nobel committee commended Carter and his organization for his work “to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development." 

Volunteer Jimmy CarterA Shelter from Storm
This was just one of the many charitable foundations that Cater has taken an active role. Another was Habitat for Humanity International, an organization that works worldwide to provide housing for underprivileged people. Since 1984, Carter's work with this organization has been more than merely signing a check every year or making a public service announcement. 

Even at their advanced ages, Carter and Rosalynn became the Habitat’s most famous volunteers. From South Africa to Detroit from Lonavala, India to Los Angeles, The Carters joined with volunteers to build and renovate houses for people in need of shelter. 
(This year in the first week of November, Habitat’s 32nd annual Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project will take place in Nepal, where the group hopes to help 100 families in the Chitwan district build permanent housing.)

Through the Carter Center, Carter has led a successful near-eradication of a horrific African parasitic disease known as Guinea worm disease, an infection that has afflicted Africa for centuries. 
When news of the spread of his cancer was made public, Carter joked that his only goal at this point was to ensure that the worm died before he did. 
Recently, Carter made an interesting remark. 
"My life since the White House has been personally more gratifying, although the presidency was obviously the pinnacle of political success...If I had to choose between four more years and the Carter Center, I think I would choose the Carter Center."
Comparing Types of Power
The fact that Carter's achievements have been much more in keeping with our nation's self-image underscores the limitations of the executive office. 
The power of the presidency is perhaps for the most part illusionary and when the power of the president is used in an imperial manner, the position can be both illegal and dangerous. 

It also says a lot about the dissolution of our values as a people that so many citizens today have come to see strength in terms of the power to bully and bend or break other nations. Carter, a quiet hero, has show that the ability to influence the world in the most positive way can simply boil down to just providing the world with a good model. 

Jimmy CarterWhile it is true that great nations make great men and women, a once-great nation, a nation in decline, rarely recognizes its own heroes. 

A proud people always appreciate all those who add honor to the country, regardless of color, or gender, sexual orientation or political affiliation. That we have such a hard time with that explains so much about where we have gone wrong.

Instead, the majority of Americans seem too often to celebrate the actors, businessmen, sports players and those who make the loudest or more obnoxious noise.
Carter's work and the model he presents to the world should be a source of pride for our nation. 

So from an admirer, I'd like to say "Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Carter."